Evolution is a Mystery

Topics: Film Analysis

By the 1930s and 40s, silent films were going out of style. The advancing technology and the political climate called for fuller more complex forms of slapstick. The innovation of sound in film catalyzed the shift as well as serious global issues occurring. Americans were struggling through the Great Depression and entering a second world war, so the silly comical stunts of old weren’t going to cut it anymore. They needed something with substance that could keep their spirits up.

Charlie Chaplin capitalized on the turmoil with the release of The Great Dictator. Chaplin revolutionized a kind of vulgar slapstick, with its fast action, its love of speed and violence, and its hatred of authority and propriety. Chaplin’s behavior flaunted social inhibitions, provoking censure or laughter depending on your point of view.

Chaplin took a stance against Nazi Germany before the true extent of their crimes was revealed but placed it in the form of a comedy to make it easy to digest.

Although the two look alike and are born 4 days apart, Charlie had an astronomical amount of resentment towards the anti-Semite. To many Hitler was seen as an almighty being that had no weakness and couldn’t be stopped. Chaplin, however, used the myth of man being fallible to expose Hitler and the dangerous rise of fascism.

The movie begins following the standard conventions and iconographies of comedy. It contains the elements of the setting such as rural open space and high key lighting, along with familiar icons such as guns.

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The film opens with a soldier, who resembles Hitler, in the war has many shortcomings. The soldier has to fire the Big Bertha gun, is chased by a malfunctioning cannon shell, drops a grenade in his pants, marches with the enemy, tries to fly a plane upside down, and crashes. These scenes are meant to show viewers the dangers of war, machines, and destruction. The main chunk of the film is about the events following this. Following the crash, the soldier suffers from amnesia and turns out to be a Jewish doctor—not Hitler.

The juxtaposition of the notorious Adenoid Hynkel and the poor, humble barber shows the disconnect between good and evil characters. The barber represents the Jews as a whole and is used to garner sympathy and show the innocence of the Jewish people. Hynkel is used to demonstrate the stupidity and irrational behaviors of Hitler and other autocrats. One of the most memorable scenes involves a balloon globe as a prop. Adenoid Hynkel dances with the globe to visually represent his dream of controlling the earth.

But when Hynkel thinks the globe is safe in his hands, the balloon bursts. This gag is meant to show that, ultimately, Hitler will be stopped and like the balloon, his dreams will burst. The film ends with the barber being confused for Hitler and delivering an anti-fascist speech. We quickly realize that the barber isn’t the one speaking, but it is Chaplin breaking the fourth wall to plead for peace, tolerance, and understanding. “This ending not only breaks with Chaplin’s tradition but with that of every known type of film tradition except that of the charity-appeal film”. The veil of comedy allows Chaplin to get away with this because those who agree with him will act, but those who do will not care much because “it’s just a comedy.”

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Evolution is a Mystery. (2022, May 10). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/evolution-is-a-mystery/

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